In 1986 my wife, Bobbi, Chicago's CEO, Steve Nasatir, and a beloved Chicago Rabbi, our friend, Willy Frankel, z'l, traveled to the then Soviet Union, as had so many North American Jews in those dark days. We went, unaccompanied and unafraid, as so many before and after us, to tell all of those courageous and beautiful Jews of the USSR with whom we met, that they would never be forgotten and that we had joined them in their fight for freedom. It was an unforgettable journey, with story after story of darkened hallways, furtive meetings on Metro platforms, of so many who we would later meet with in Jerusalem and elsewhere, of marveling at the courage of a small number of people who were growing into a torrent. But, on this Simchat Torah 2012, I want to write about another Simchat Torah -- over a quarter-century ago...in Moscow.
We were told by everyone with whom we met that they would see us again "on the Holiday." We were told even before we left Chicago that "you won't believe what will happen on Simchat Torah." So, bundled up, we set off at sundown from our Hotel to the plaza fronting the Moscow Choral Synagogue. And, there we found the Jews of Silence in ever greater numbers...first, 1000's and then, 1,000's and 1,000's more. They gathered everywhere, and around us, slipping notes into our outstretched hands, speaking Yiddish with Willie Frankel who interpreted their pleas, dancing and singing, hugging. And we joined up with Eli Wiesel who was in the USSR with the then NJCRAC, now JCPA. Their message -- "don't forget us"....and ours back "we will never forget you." On into the night.
And, we never forgot them. None of us forgot them.